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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Live Guitar Playing Wins Hands Down

My day out ends in a five hour marathon

On Wednesday I found myself in a rare mood. I was neither under any obligations nor wishing to make myself busy. I took a day out and ended up at the Royal College of Music in London listening to various guitar recitals by students as part of their degree courses. Sometimes it is good to just do as you please, and to decide so as the day progresses. I had no idea whether I would wish to stay long or not. But I did, for five consecutive recitals. In the process I found myself too. When I say I found myself I mean I came to various conclusions which were more or less confirmations of what I have been thinking since I too was a student in the same establishment. In the meantime – that is, between 1969 and the present day - I have vacillated between quite different views. It is good to come to a firm opinion at last. But first let me tell you what I heard.

The music I had the pleasure of hearing included three performances of Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal Op. 70, two performances of Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata Op. 47, and one performance each of Magnus Lindberg’s Mano a Mano, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Caprichos de Goya numbers 1 and 2 from his 24 Caprichos op. 195. I also listened to Fernando Sor’s La Calme – caprice Op. 50, Isaac Albeniz’s Sevilla from Suite Espaňola Op. 47 and J.S.Bach’s Partita BWV 1002. The weakest piece by far was Sor’s La Calme. Of the others Bach and Albeniz are the odd men out. How’s that, I hear you ask. Odd only in that theirs’ are the only pieces not composed for the guitar.

And once we are at it, let me continue to find links or exceptions in the rest of them. Britten, Ginastera, Lindberg and Tedesco were, or are not guitar players. At least three of them hardly knew anything about the guitar before they composed for it. My first conclusion of the day was this: good composers do not need to be able to play the guitar to write good pieces for it. I know this view flatly contradicts frequent assertions but I am sticking to it.

All of the works were of a duration in excess of 13 minutes. They go against previous trends of composing short miniatures as for example, Frank Martin’s Quatre Pièces Brèves and Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje. That’s my second conclusion: long works work on the guitar too!

I leave two more - and for me important - conclusions to last. The first is that all four of these works are tremendous additions to the repertoire. The Caprichos by Castelnuovo-Tedesco are endlessly lyrical and inventive. The Britten Nocturnal is a hypnotic evocation of the composers’ dream world, culminating in the unforgettable musical gesture of ending the work with Dowland’s great song Come Heavy Sleep. Ginastera’s Sonata alternates extremes of lyricism and rhythmic excitement as no other piece of guitar music. Magnus Lindberg’s Mano a Mano is a composition on a grand emotional scale embracing a kaleidoscopic musical language.

And what is my last conclusion? Three of the works were composed in the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s. They are admired by musicians and regarded by them as emblematic pieces. With time they may become accepted as essential listening by lovers of guitar music, guitar aficionados and concert goers. They may even inspire an evening’s outing to hear the music in all its nuances as only a live performance can do. I hope to be present to share in just such an occasion. Why, I would even do more than change all my obligations and take the whole day off to witness such a thing: I would invite everyone I know to it too.

London, 24 March 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1156 .
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